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Review of Fiddler on the Roof at the Playhouse Theatre

Darius Luke Thompson by Johan Persson.
Darius Luke Thompson by Johan Persson.

It is hardly the salient point in a musical where Russian Jews are singing their stories in English in the first place, but I do wish this cast of Fiddler on the Roof had followed Andy Nyman’s Tevye in being consistent in using one accent for their character throughout the evening. I hasten to add that most of them do. The occasional slips into RSC or RADA-style dulcet tones would have been fine (at least for me) if they had been maintained from start to finish. But then, as the story goes, this is a tale about tradition, and how changes in the world at large are finally taking their toll on Anatevka (not actually fictitious these days, suffice to say the actual Anatevka, near the Ukrainian capital Kiev, was named after the fictional ‘shtetl’ from this musical).

Aside from certain people sounding like a BBC World Service presenter every so often – I’m still not tempted to name names – this production is. It could, perhaps, have been lit better inasmuch as I struggled to tell day from night. Take, for instance, the rushing around in an early scene as people hurried to conclude whatever business they were up to before the Sabbath. Judging by the lighting alone one would have thought Friday night had already started.

Whilst the production has reconfigured the stalls seating to allow for a stage entrance/exit through the rear of the auditorium (particularly effective in the final scene, which seemed to involve more people than the twenty-eight strong company), the stalls seating, whilst at a good rake, is tight, to say the least. The curtain falls the right side of 10:30pm, just about, and there’s something about the acoustics in this production that stops the eight-piece orchestra from sounding anything more than merely the sum of its constituent parts.

A good number of people in my section of the audience at the performance I attended were evidently experiencing Fiddler for the first time ever, and the various narrative twists resulted in audible gasps. For my part, even though I knew what was going to unfold, I still found myself engrossed in proceedings – this is, after all, an entire Jewish community on stage – including a baker, a butcher, an innkeeper and so on – and, ever the village gossip, the Matchmaker, Yente (Anita Dobson) who brims with confidence and energy.

Maria Friedman’s Golde, the matriarch of the five-daughter family, manages to keep all of them fully occupied with some task or other on a full-time basis. Papa may rule, but it is Mama who governs. But it is Tevye’s conversations with the Almighty that are the most engaging bits of dialogue, maintaining a respectful reverence and civility whilst asking some frank questions. He is also not afraid to admit having material ambitions – when Perchik (Stewart Clarke) appeals to his supposed spirituality by suggesting that money “is the world’s curse”, Tevye snaps back, “May the Lord smite me with it. And may I never recover!” Of his five daughters, Chava (Nicola Brown) does something more liberal-minded parents would have accommodated – Tevye says “No!” to her more times than Margaret Thatcher said “No!” to the European Economic Community.

As the play is set in 1905, sometimes the audience knows more than the characters. One couple looks forward with hope to a new start in Poland – their children and grandchildren will either find themselves moving elsewhere eventually, or else pay the ultimate sacrifice. The show is remarkably relevant to 2019, too. In a world where pockets of antisemitism remain, Fiddler on the Roof if anything serves as an important and timely reminder of what can happen when a government actively decides to create a hostile environment. A poignant and gripping production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Old traditions and young love collide in this joyous and timely celebration of life. Tevye’s daughters’ unexpected choice of husbands opens his heart to new possibilities, as his close-knit community also feel winds of change blowing through their tiny village.

Featuring the iconic score including ‘Tradition’, ‘Matchmaker, Matchmaker’, ‘Sunrise, Sunset’ and ‘If I Were a Rich Man’, and featuring original choreography from Tony Award-winning Jerome Robbins alongside new choreography by Matt Cole, Fiddler on the Roof ‘bursts from the stage’ (Financial Times), bringing new life to one of the most beloved musicals of all time.

Maria Friedman and Anita Dobson join the company of Trevor Nunn’s critically acclaimed production of Fiddler on the Roof, which is currently running at the reconfigured Playhouse Theatre until 28 September. Friedman plays Golde, and Dobson plays Yente from 18 June, taking over from Judy Kuhn and Louise Gold respectively. They join Andy Nyman (Tevye), Nicola Brown (Chava), Harriet Bunton (Hodel), Dermot Canavan (Lazar Wolf), Stewart Clarke (Perchik), Joshua Gannon (Motel), Matthew Hawksley (Fyedka), and Molly Osborne (Tzeitel), as well as Miles Barrow, Sofia Bennett, Philip Bertioli, Lottie Casserley, Elena Cervesi, Lia Cohen, Talia Etherington, Shoshana Ezequiel, Isabella Foat, Fenton Gray, James Hameed, Adam Linstead, Adam Margilewski, Robert Maskell, Benny Maslov, Robyn McIntyre, Gaynor Miles, Ellie Mullane, Tania Newton, Craig Pinder, Valentina Theodoulou and Ed Wade.

Book by Joseph Stein
Music by Jerry Bock
Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Director Trevor Nunn;
Choreographers Jerome Robbins and Matt Cole
Set Designer Robert Jones
Costume Designer Jonathan Lipman
Lighting Designer Tim Lutkin
Sound Designer Gregory Clarke
Hair and Wig Designer Richard Mawbey
Orchestrations Jason Carr
Musical Supervisor Paul Bogaev

Chocolate Factory Productions, Sonia Friedman Productions and Michael Harrison present
The Menier Chocolate Factory production of
FIDDLER ON THE ROOF

BOOKING PERIOD: 21st March 2019 – 15th June 2019

PERFORMANCE TIMES: Tuesday- Saturday: 7.30pm, Tuesday, Thursday & Saturday: 2.30pm.
RUNNING TIME: 2 hours 50 minutes (including interval)
The Playhouse Theatre, Northumberland Ave, London, WC2N 5DE.

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